Many people living below the poverty line do not have the luxury of taking hot meals for granted and have very real concerns about where they might get their next one.
In the case of impoverished Pekinites, the next hot meal may come courtesy of the Pekin Outreach Initiative, a group of 15 local churches and agencies dedicated to ensuring that Pekin’s poor and homeless have nutritious meals several days a week.
“Our basic focus is on people in Pekin living in poverty,” said Lynne Johnson, POI founder and director. “We try to provide them food, and we also try to provide them with toiletries, because that’s not something state aid will cover.
Our plan, down the road, is to develop a day center with showers for the homeless, and washers and dryers for people who can’t afford to go to a laundromat. We have also established a committee that’s working on shelter for Pekin’s homeless. A lot of Pekinites don’t know this, but the community has a big problem with homelessness. The Pekin Salvation Army, of course, offers a homeless shelter, but if it’s full, there is nowhere else for homeless people to go during the cold months.”
Combating homelessness and poverty is a battle for an entire unified community, Johnson said. She therefore invites the community at large to join POI in its efforts.
“Pekin Outreach Initiative welcomes any agency, church, business or individual who wants to work with us,” she said. “We welcome new ideas and appreciate the input of those who share our concern for the community.”
The organization began distributing non-perishable meal packs called Weekend Snack Packs to Pekin children living below the poverty level in September 2013 and began serving hot meals in October 2013. The group currently serves meals on a rotating basis at five locations throughout Pekin and operates a food pantry and toiletry pantry that delivers to at-risk residents. POI also distributes about 1,100 Weekend Snack Packs per week.
“We serve about 60 to 75 meals every Monday and Thursday evening,” said Johnson. “On Saturdays, we’ll serve more: between 100 and 120. We have poor families come in who have made friends at previous meals, so they have a chance to socialize. If someone needs assistance beyond the meals we serve, we have someone on-site who can guide them to the right resources.”
The Pekin Outreach Initiative receives funding from the United Way, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and various local fraternal organizations. About one-third of POI funding comes from churches affiliated with the group. One hundred percent of POI funds are spent on food and toiletries for the needy.
“I work as a parent liaison with School District 108, so I work with poor families and homeless families every working day,” said Johnson. “So, I have firsthand knowledge of who is in need, and we address those needs. POI is made up of professional people and clergy members who are already dealing with social service issues. We have a lot of connections to the resources and programs that are already available. We don’t want to duplicate those programs; but want to support them. For example, when Pekin (Community) High School opened an outreach closet for its low-income students, we gave them funds and toiletries from our pantry.”
Pekin Outreach Initiative meets on the first Friday of each month at 11 a.m. at Grace United Methodist Church, 601 N. Fourth St., Pekin. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/PekinOutreachInitiative.
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